August 22, 2014
Sorcerer's Apprentice: The Lost Episode?
Much has been made of “lost episodes” of TV shows, most of them urban legends (i.e., one visit to Creepy Pasta reveals tell of a Spongebog Squarepants episode featuring Squidward’s suicide and a Seinfeld episode that supposedly foretold 9/11) but a few do genuinely exist. This is one of them. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (a title taken from a Disney short) was supposed to air July 3, 1962, a Tuesday, from 8:30-9 PM. It was the 39th episode of season 7 of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Except, it never aired.
Variety described (In 1957) Alfred Hitchcock Presents as “30-minute films with a novel suspense yarn that could keep CBS-TV’s rating ball up for that time period if the follow-uppers maintain similar production and plot line stature. Each half-hour gets a different writer and cast while the directorial chores will be split between Hitchcock, Robert Stevens, Paul Henreid, and James Neilson.” This was written at the launch of Season 3, about an episode called “The Glass Eye” featuring future stars Jessica Tandy and William Shatner. Although a few other directors appeared throughout the series, Variety was semi-right in that those four men directed the majority of the episodes. On NBC, during the 1961-62 season, it competed with The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis on CBS and Calvin and the Colonel on ABC; it was preceded by Laramie and followed by The Dick Powell Show. The show came in during the peak of the anthology genre’s popularity, then trailed out with the genre; specifically, it was part of the sci fi/horror/suspense anthology subgenre, compared to The Twilight Zone and Tales of Tomorrow. But Hitchcock’s show was different—it relied on psychological terror, which gave it a compelling nature without anything supernatural or fantastic, it didn’t have the political charge of The Twilight Zone, and, most importantly, it was connected to a famous and applauded film director.
It was sponsored by Revlon. This is where things get interesting. Hitchcock famously would mock the sponsors, saying funny asides before each commercial break, usually comparing the dreadful events onscreen to the torture of watching an ad. Maybe this led to Revlon’s mistrust of the show. But the reason they gave, when they told NBC not to air “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” was that it was “too gruesome.”
Gruesome it is. The plot revolves around a carnival magician, Sadini (played by David J. Stewart), finding a teenage boy (Brandon de Wilde) passed out on the grounds. He proceeds to care for the boy, to the chagrin of his beautiful wife and assistant, Irene (Diana Dors.) When the boy awakens, he refers to them as an angel and the devil. His name is Hugo, and he is either mentally disabled or just “slow.” Characters refer to him as “simple Simon;” this is an offensive portrayal of a disabled person, as his misunderstandings of events around him are initially played for comedy and then, by the end, are the catalyst for disaster. This belief that the mentally disabled are either funny figures or at risk of destruction (like Lenny in Of Mice and Men) is a harmful stereotype.
Irene is having an affair with a high-wire artist, George (Larry Kert.) When George stands with Hugo watching the magic show, Hugo becomes terrified that Sadini is actually sawing Irene in half; George assures him that it is just a trick. Appeased, Hugo becomes Sadini’s protégé of sorts, following him around, idolizing him.
But Irene sees in this a means to run away with George. She tells Hugo that Sadini is in fact the devil, and that his magic is real, and that it comes from his wand; she insinuates that Hugo should kill the magician. He stabs Sadini with a knife, and the dead man falls into a well-placed crate. George, drunk, runs into Sadini’s trailer, telling Hugo not to do what Irene told him; George then passes out, and besides, it’s too late. Hugo tells Irene the “good news;” terrified, and realizing that the boy intends to run away with her, she tries to escape and falls, hitting her head on a chair, and faints. Hugo carries her body to the trick box, where he saw her “sawed in half,” and he waves the wand and begins to drop the spinning chainsaw wheel. She wakes up, horrified, and her screams drown out to Hitchcock making a snide joke about her being “beside herself.”
This episode was directed by Joseph Leytes and written by Psycho screenwriter Robert Bloch. Although it did not air during the run of the show, it was sold in syndication, and by that time, no one cared about the implied violence.
(I apologize for using Wikipedia, but so much production information/the TV schedules were right there!)
Gros. “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Variety. Oct 9, 1957: p. 29. Vol. 208, Issue 6. Print.